There has been a common theme in my own interactions with atheists, agnostics and even Christians and that is “Christianity has failed me”. Whether pain or disappointment these realities cannot be merely argued away by reason or labelled outliers. There are thousands of cases of abuse and misconduct by Christian leaders that are so damaging they violate the very soul of the individual. There are groups of individuals who are promised futures that are never fulfilled despite their self-sacrifice, time and money. Many are hung out to dry, torn apart by lies, stripped of their finances, beaten into conformance (herd mentality) and robbed of life. This is the reality of Christianity today. Bondage, burden and abuse.
The cost of religion
I will never forget when a neighbor who had been attending a very popular church came to visit me distraught. He and his wife had been struggling to restore their relationship and were on the brink of divorce. They decided to join a church to find hope, wisdom, a path forward through the complexities and pain of their marriage (for their child) but more so for each other. These are not light reasons to attend a church. People like this are hungry, thirsty, desperate and in need of hope, in need of direction, in need of a map to guide them.
His demeanor and poise was of one completely disillusioned and distraught. In his hand was a cell phone showing me a sequence of texts from the Pastor of his church to one or more congregation women. The texts were both illicit and highly sexual in nature. He couldn’t believe that a married man, a man of god, a man who stood at the helm of the ship could be so dishonest and such a hypocrite.
When people are lost as he was – they seek truth, they seek an environment that they can trust and that can nurture them but sadly my neighbor found the opposite. He un-surfaced a deceptive environment, sexual immorality at it’s head and place of distrust. I don’t know what has happened since but I do know his marriage ended in divorce.
The false premises
Religion provides safety through community. That is, a body of people of like mind who can rally around you in your darkest times. Religion provides a map to steer through the complexities and pain of life. Religion provides a philosophy, a set of beliefs, a vehicle for self-transformation. However it’s danger is that when people seek religion (Christianity) solely for these very kinds of benefits they are likely to find themselves hurt, broken, beaten, disappointed, discouraged and bitter.
Modern-day Christianity teaches religion is the answer to life’s biggest questions. It is not. Modern-day Christianity heralds come to church it will set you free. It will not. Modern-day Christianity preaches that all who come to Jesus will be saved from a fatal perpetuity if you only do X. It will not. Modern-day Christianity defines god and says he is the answer to all your problems. No he is not. These are lies, social norms, social constructs and nothing more than deception. And those who solely seek the benefits of religion (Christianity) will find themselves mislead in it's pursuit instead of it's truth.
Christianity is not about community. Christianity is not about a truth that can liberate you from the pain of life. Christianity is not about a set of beliefs that can guide you to self-enlightenment. Those are it’s side-effects. These side-effects can only be derived from religion when you have exercised it’s heart. And that heart of Christianity is NOT found in a set of ideas, people or in congregating but in the very person of Jesus Christ.
"It doesn't matter how beautiful your theory is, it doesn't matter how smart you are. If it doesn't agree with experiment, it's wrong". Richard Feynman
As humans and in our age of enlightenment we are struggling to cope with the amass of information available at our finger tips. A tornado happening 12000 km away is now instantly available for me to follow and track in real time through Twitter, Facebook or YouTube. We have terabytes of online courses to help us become better, smarter and more skilled. We at a click of a button receive instant statistics about our heart rate, steps done for the day, the quality of sleep we have had in a week. And with this flood of information we are now learning at a rapid pace how to filter out the noise, how to selectively stream what’s important but more so how to rationally apply logic and reason to determine Google searched ‘truth’ from reality.
Sadly this scientific method and approach has not filtered down into Christianity. Rather false premises abound. For example, the answer to life’s challenges are said to be found at church. The answers to a lack of hope and depression in charismatic church leaders. The answers to life and it’s meaning, in teachings of a Judaeo-Christian framework. But if we stopped and just applied our scientific method, we would see that the answers we seek are not in the system of religion, but in something far more intrinsic, and that is the person of Jesus Christ. It is difficult to come to a comprehensive understanding of what Christianity is, unless we understand the central figure of Jesus Christ. In fact, it is near impossible to gain a full understanding of Him through following leaders and their teaching or through finding comfort in the arms of a church community. The danger is depending on these groups or individuals to provide you the best version of truth based of their own identities, experiences and interpretation. There shouldn’t be any middle-men or intermediaries between us and God - it is a recipe for disaster and prone to failure.
The missing head and heart
I am by no means saying we don’t need the church or it’s leaders. In fact the body is critical. I will say that again, being part of a body is critical. But the body moves, responds and lives because at it’s heart is Christ and it’s head is Christ. And if we are too shield ourselves and steer our ships into safe waters we have to understand truth on our own. We must read the Bible and gain truth directly not indirectly. We must seek Christ first and then can we detect anomalies and have the skill to filter out noise. We must toil in it’s truth, tussle through it’s pages and test it’s assertions on our own to separate true from the untrue. We must see the Bible with our own eyes. Then and only then can we fairly and truly assert, “Christianity has failed me”. Any other means is not reality, but a premature discombobulation of self-deception.
Consider an example of selling your home of R3 million. You really need the money. Your lawyer comes to you says he has read the Deed of Sale and gives you it’s highlights. He then states that there is no need for you to read the document or even waste your time, as it’s just legal rhetoric and likely to be confusing. He asks you to put trust in his expertise, years of experience and for you to just sign the dotted line. I would like to believe that in this situation 99% of us would ignore this foolish request from the lawyer and read the contract despite. How is it then when it comes to Christianity we choose not to read the contract and the source of truth but listen and heed intermediaries - at very high cost?
My challenge to you, if you are not there already; is to become a subject matter expert. And the subject that matters is Jesus Christ. Your bible is more than a set of words interpreted by others and that interpretation dictated. It’s a fundamental text that we can use to understand who God is but also confirm and test the world around us. Dig in, dig deep, understand Jesus, and then decide.